Filipino veterans
get health benefits

A bill signed by Bush
provides for health care
at VA facilities

About 2,000 World War II Filipino-American veterans in Hawaii will receive the same health care benefits as other American veterans under a new law.

"I thank God for this law that covers our medical benefits," said former New Philippine Scout Dominador Garcia, 77, who served in Okinawa from July 1946 to April 1949.

President Bush signed Senate Bill 1156 earlier this month, providing Filipino-American veterans, including some who served after the end of World War II, health care benefits at Veterans Administration hospitals and nursing homes.

The new law applies only to veterans who live in the United States, and allows them to receive medical treatment at VA hospitals not related to their service.

The benefits are estimated to cost about $16.3 million for the 2004 fiscal year. An estimated 8,000 Filipino-American World War II veterans live in the United States.

Previous measures allowed Filipino-American veterans who were injured in the war to receive health care. A law three years ago allowed veterans to be buried in national cemeteries.

Bush signed a separate bill yesterday that provides $2.9 million in compensation benefits for 400 widows of Filipino-American veterans who live in the United States and for 100 New Philippine Scouts who had suffered injuries. The bill also includes burial privileges for New Philippine Scouts, who served in Filipino-manned units of the U.S. Army.

In January, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye introduced another bill that would provide health and disability compensation benefits for veterans living in the Philippines. About 21,000 Filipino World War II veterans live in the Philippines.

"We're very excited that we have recognition of our Filipino veterans," said Eric Lachica, executive director of the Washington-based American Coalition for Filipino Veterans. "We're one step away from full equity."

However, Joe Gonzales, 79, president of the WWII Filipino-American Veterans Chapter in Hawaii, said the bill was bittersweet after so many veterans had returned home or died.

"That should've been a long time ago," Gonzales said. "It was discrimination to us. ... Why were we left out was the question."

Gonzales is awaiting a measure pending before the House of Representatives that calls for pension benefits for Filipino-American veterans.

Philippine Consul General Rolando Gregorio said the new law is welcome news for Filipino-American veterans that live in Hawaii.

"They have waited for these benefits for a long time," Gregorio said. "They had worked hard and lobbied for the passage of the measure and signing into law."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt summoned the Commonwealth Army of the Philippines to serve with the U.S. military during World War II. At the time, the Philippines was a U.S. commonwealth.

Under the Rescission Acts of 1946, however, Congress took away the veterans' benefits, stating that the World War II service of Filipinos would not be treated as recognized military service.


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